Mapping our Commercial Corridors
When we began working on our equitable business development priority, we discovered that there was no comprehensive inventory of businesses along major commercial streets in Minneapolis. We knew this information would be useful to us for understanding the landscape of businesses in the city: where are there more or less vacancies? What kinds of businesses are concentrated in which areas? Do certain neighborhoods have a mix of stores that meets residents’ needs, while others do not?
Since this data did not yet exist, we set out to create it ourselves. With several staff in Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), we tested an app to physically inventory retail spaces and their occupants in major commercial areas in the City. The app shows a map of commercial buildings in Minneapolis and allows the user to edit the information on what kind of business is there or whether the space is vacant.
To test out the app, we walked along sections of four commercial corridors in Minneapolis: Lake Street between Hiawatha Avenue and Bloomington Avenue; Central Avenue between 18th Avenue and 26th Avenue; Franklin Avenue between Bloomington Avenue and Portland Avenue; and West Broadway Avenue between Penn Avenue and Fremont Avenue.
While we still have a way to go to inventory all the commercial corridors in Minneapolis, this initial pilot taught us several valuable lessons about commercial space in our city:
1. What uses constitute “retail” are not clear-cut. In this pilot inventory, we included anything that a pedestrian at street level would likely read as a street-facing space that they would be welcome to walk into.
2. “Retail space” is complex. We encountered a variety of spaces – single spaces housing several businesses, marketplaces with numerous stalls, spaces that had been subdivided into several. Addresses didn’t always match, so we prioritized the address listed on the physical space.
3. “Vacant” doesn’t necessarily mean space is available to rent. The owner may be uninterested in renting for a variety of reasons. People told us that often, finding available space of the right scale is a bigger problem than having too many vacancies.
4. Retail space can also be community space. Convenience stores selling a variety of products were ubiquitous on each corridor. Restaurants, businesses providing services, and public outdoor spaces all provide important gathering spaces. Business owners talked about their roles as community hubs in addition to providing products people need.
This project is ongoing – we have inventoried more than 7,000 commercial properties to date! We hope the final product will be a comprehensive map of commercial spaces in the City, which will then be easier to update on a regular basis. This information will help City staff better understand businesses and vacancies in different neighborhoods to make planning decisions. We hope it will also become a public tool that will assist new and expanding businesses in more easily finding available space where they want to locate.